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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My take on Harry Potter

Since it's first book in 1997, the Harry Potter series written by J. K. Rowling has become an international hit. The series tells the story of Harry Potter, his two best friends Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger in their battle against the most evil wizard in the world, Lord Voldemort, who had murdered Harry's parents in attempt to kill Harry himself.

This was all because of a prophecy made by Sybil Trelawney, stating that Lord Voldemort will mark Harry (there were actually two to choose from - Harry and his pure-blood friend Neville Longbottom) as his equal and one of them must destroy the other.

On his 11th birthday, he received his letter of admittance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry which was delivered by a half-giant named Rubeus Hagrid (who also became one of Harry's best friends). Hagrid gave him the gist of his real past as his Aunt Petunia (his mother's sister) and Uncle Vernon had told him that his parents had died in a car crash.

He bought his necessities for school, finding that he had a vault full of gold in Gringott's Wizarding Bank which is located in Diagon Alley (derived from the English word 'diagonally', as the entire place runs disgonally), which can be accessed through a dark pub in London. Then he proceeds to Platform 9 and 3/4 (which is accessed through a wall between platforms 9 and 10) and heads to Hogwarts and meets Ron and Hermione.

For the rest of the story, read the books or just read the gist of it here. There are also another couple of books explaining the elements that create the story and the meanings behind the riddles.

This post is my take on a few of the elements in the books, the minor ones.

Firstly, the currency of Harry's wizarding world - Galleons (gold), Sickles (silver) and Knuts (bronze). These are all coins, which shows the traditional ways of the wizards and witches, not succumbing to technology, and also showing care for the environment - regular Muggle bank notes is made from paper, thus using trees. In the wizarding world, traditional metals are used not only for currency, but also for certain equipment like cauldrons.

Next up, the selection of wands. Every wizard needs a wand, unless their magical powers are really powerful like Albus Dumbledore's. The best wand-maker is situated in Diagon Alley, a shop called Ollivander's. The concept of wand purchasing is simple - you try out different wands, and see which wand 'chooses' the wizard. By saying this, this means that one wizard would most likely would only have one wand for life. Each wand is unique, each made of different wood and contains a hair or feather of different powerfully magical creatures. This depicts real magic, in which destiny is entwined.

No postman is required in the wizarding world, 'cause the traditional magical method is used - owls. Every family - if not every individual - has their own owl. For poorer families (whether half- or pure-blooded) like the Weasleys, having an owl for him/herself is a privilege. A wide range of species of owls are used - snowy, barn, tawny, etc. Owls in the wizarding world are capable of seeking out people whose location is unclear.

Even the books are magical - the Monster Book of Monsters (used in Care of Magical Creatures taught by Hagrid in Harry's third year at Hogwarts) is actually a monster which turns into a book only if you stroke it's spine; a book that Harry saw at Flourish and Blotts in his third year about death omens actually made you see death omens all over the place.

An assortment of magical creatures - both from traditional folklore and invented - are mentioned in the series. Those that are actually an important part of the story are a phoenix (Dumbledore's, named Fawkes), a Hippogriff (named Buckbeak by Hagrid), a basilisk (the monster of the Chamber of Secrets which was opened by Lord Voldemort's memory in Harry's second year), thestrals (creatures which can only be seen by people who've witnessed death, pulls the carriages from the Hogwarts station up to the castle), house elves, garden gnomes, and so forth. Existence between wizard and magical creature is harmonious, sometimes broken by some wizards who consider themselves more superior than others.

There are a few modes of transports in the wizarding world. There's the ever-famous broomstick, Floo powder (teleport from chimney to chimney using a system), Apparating and Disapparating, and walking. In Harry's world, broomsticks are like cars - there are many different models and each model has it's own advantage. Floo powder teleporting is tricky, as you might end up in someone else's house if you didn't pronounce your targeted place right. Apparating and Disapparating is only allowed after training and a test, much like driving, because inexperienced wizards have been known to have left half of their body behind while Disapparating.

* I think this post has spun off course - it was supposed to be my take on the series, but now I'm merely stating facts about the story which you could most likely figure out on your own by reading. *

And like any other normal world, there are wizarding schools in other parts of the world. In the series, only Durmstrang of Bulgaria and Beauxbatons of France. It is also clear that the syllabus of the schools are also different - Durmstrang concentrates its classes on the performance of Dark Arts, instead of Defense Against the Dark Arts; Beauxbatons, on the other hand, performs more artistic forms of magic.

The notion of the prevention of death is hinted and mentioned throughout the story. The question starts right at the beginning of the story - how did Lord Voldemort survive even after the Killing Curse rebounded upon himself? In Harry's fifth year, he discovers along with Dumbledore that the Potions master Prof. Horace Slughorn had been questioned by the young Lord Voldemort (Tom Marvolo Riddle) about a piece of very Dark magic called a horcrux. A horcrux is an object in which you keep part of your soul so that even after mortal death of your body, you remain alive. This means to tear your soul, and to do so, one must perform an act of murder. The story tells us that the soul can not only be torn into two, but into seven, as Lord Voldemort has done. The horcruxes include a ring (owned by Voldemort's grandfather), a diary (as shown in Chamber), his pet snake Nagini, Helga Hufflepuff's cup, Rowena Ravenclaw's Diadem, Salazar Slytherin's locket and Harry himself.

In Tales of Beedle the Bard (a book left to Hermione by Dumbledore after his death, also published as a seperate book by Rowling), The Tale of the Three Brothers mention another way to cheat death - by avoiding Death himself. Three brothers were travelling and came upon a river, they summoned a bridge so that they could cross over. Death met them halfway, angry that they had cheated him. But he was cunning and said that each had earned a prize for being so clever. The oldest brother asked for the most powerful wand in existence (this wand is later known as the Elder Wand). The second brother wanted to humiliate Death further and asked for a stone which could bring back the dead (the Resurrection Stone). The third and youngest brother, wise as he was, asked for something that will enable him to continue his journey without being followed by death, and Death handed over his Invisibility Cloak reluctantly. The first and second brother died from jealousy and love, but the third brother, having hid under the Cloak until his old age, went with Death as equals.

Racism is also addressed in the story. Not our kind of racism, but wizarding racism. Wizards come from all kinds of parentages, but some families actually practice inter-family marriage so that their blood would stay 'pure', thus priding themselves as 'pure-bloods' and more superior than wizards and witches with Muggle parentage. Examples of pure-blood families in the story are the Malfoys and the Weasleys. Sometimes, a witch or wizard can be born from both Muggle parents, Hermione being one of them.

As a summary, the Harry Potter series is the best series of novels that I've ever read, the next being the Twilight saga. The series is a huge potion of traditional magical elements with newer, more exciting magic. And the way J. K. Rowling told the story through Harry was amazing - mystery, adventure, friendship, love, loyalty, etc all in one!!!

The list of Harry Potter novels and other books:
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Sorcerer's in US)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Quidditch Through the Ages
  • The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter by David Colbert (not approved by J. K. Rowling or Warner Bros.)

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